Distilling Locally

The giant wild fig tree that graces Tanagra labels.

The giant wild fig tree that graces Tanagra labels.

A German HR consultant and a linguistic professor make McGregor their new local.

McGregor, in the Western Cape is a little hidden treasure, set amongst the vineyards and fruit farms of the Robertson Valley. Within that hidden treasure, lies a very special distillery called Tanagra Private Cellar.

Bordered by Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve, bursting with fynbos on one side, a stream on another and mountains all around, this is home to Annette and Robert Rosenbach, a German couple who moved to their “farm in Africa” eight years ago.

It’s an unlikely place to find an HR consulting executive and professor of linguistics. But after traveling throughout southern Africa, they discovered McGregor, fell in love with it and made a conscious decision to quit successful jobs in Germany and move.

Robert Rosenbach and the 200 litre Carl still and column

Robert Rosenbach and the 200 litre Carl still and column

Methodically, they planned their future endeavors, with encouragement and help from Hubertus Vallendar, a highly awarded Master Distiller in Germany and winner of Distillery of the Year – Gold in 2016. He recommended that they distill boutique-type spirits, the fruit spirits and grappa. He also recommended the equipment they would need to buy and ship to South Africa. They brought the Carl 200 litre still and stainless steel column with them.

A big hurdle for them was procuring a license, long-distance from Germany, which even when done locally, is a long, drawn-out frustrating task. But methodically, Robert persisted until finally, “Someone must have got so tired of my emails and phone calls that finally some guy gave me the stamp just to get rid of me,” he said, laughing.

It’s one thing to have the license, location and equipment, but to actually produce a product is a whole different issue! Hubertus was mentor and teacher, instructing Robert in the fine art of distilling. At which he now excels.

Industrial shipping crates used to transport the local fruit for eau de vie.

Industrial shipping crates used to transport the local fruit for eau de vie.

“Our focus is single variety grappa,” Robert said, a departure from many other distillers. “When it is blended, you lose the specific flavor of the varieties. You can imagine where the spirit comes from.”

He also only uses locally sourced fruits and wines. “Everything comes from the Robertson McGregor Valley. That is why we only have apricot, peach, quince and pear Eau de Vie,” he said.

The pomace used for making grappa is either produced on the farm from their own wine, or from Springfield Wine Estate, which Robert believes is the best local winery.

An unusual spirit, Eau de Vie de Lie, a spirit distilled from wine lees, the yeasty sediment left behind in a wine barrel, is also produced. Robert believes Tanagra is the only distillery in South Africa to produce this unique product. The Cabernet Sauvignon Eau de Vie de Lie is distilled from Springfield Cabernet Sauvignon lees that are matured in oak for 12 months before distilling and the Sauvignon Blanc Eau de Vie de Lie is distilled from Springfield Sauvignon Blanc “Life from Stone” lees.

The Tanagra range currently includes six grappas, two Eau de Vie de Vin, two Eau de Vie de Lie, four Fruit Eau de Vie and an orange liqueur.

The distillery itself is in a converted horse barn.

The distillery itself is in a converted horse barn.

Aside from the Distillery, 12.5 ha of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz vines are in cultivation and used to produce handcrafted and limited release wines, with the pomace used for the single variety grappa. 

There are also six guest cottages on the property, each providing privacy and spectacular views, and which are the farm’s main income producers.

Considered a boutique distillery, Tanagra produces 4,000 bottles of spirits a year. There have been requests for them to distill in bulk for others, which could be a boost economically. But, as Robert says, he wants to do things slow and steady, increasing output slowly. Especially as this is a one-man-show, as far as the distilling goes, and he is anxious to keep things under control. “I don’t want staff and to be controlling others. I had enough of that in my previous life. I can manage the growth rate this way.” He continued, “If we wanted to get rich, we would have stayed in Germany.”


Tanagra Boutique Distillery
Vroljkheid, Robertson Road
McGregor 6708
South Africa

P: 023 625 1780
email: tanagra@tanagra-wines.co.za